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COO explains how he's helping reshape newspapers

Martin Veitch | June 8, 2008
Derek Gannon has no truck with the popular notion that the ultimate opportunity for "IT people" stops within the IT function.

Gannon's arrival in the COO seat comes as GNM, and indeed the media industry generally, is going through upheaval. "We're in the middle of unprecedented change," he says. "We're moving away from being a traditional UK print title to becoming an international 24/7 operation."

Prepare for change

"[Guardian editor] Alan Rusbridger has a very clear idea about this. Instead of using 'flexibility' to mean hot-desking or working from home, we use it to refer to crossing platforms."

This involves retraining contributors so that they become more than just reporters or photographers. Ninety-five percent of editorial staff will have "digital training" by the time of the move to Kings Place later this year. "As a journalist, you'll tap out 2,000 words, shoot your own video, then take your own pictures," Gannon says enthusiastically.

There are already examples of multitasking, he adds. "Dan Chung trained himself from being a photographer to become a film maker. Sean Smith turned himself from a photographer to a video film maker. It's about changing journalism."

That kind of change process is never easy, of course, particularly among the cynical breed of journalists. Surely there were issues with contributors wondering whether they were being turned into multi-purpose content machines rather than what might have been perceived as the pipe dream of dynamic, adaptive multimedia all-rounders?

Gannon concedes that there was a process to be worked through. "Last year, we negotiated a new agreement with the National Union of Journalists, which was pretty historic for us. Other companies said, 'You will move to this new age.' It took some months but we sat down and negotiated an agreement that worked. You do get resistance but you don't get beyond that resistance unless you explain your vision of what you want your company to be."

And that vision is? "To be the world's leading liberal voice regardless of platform," Gannon says, adding that the company hopes to get some empirical indication of support or otherwise for changes with a staff survey that asks how employees feel about their jobs, even if, in a quieter, less responsible world, "this would be the year not to do it".

The determination to be a digital media hub, together with the advent of new wireless communication possibilities, will also force changes to support, requiring a dedicated support team to back up journalists in the field.

Supporting the new media

"There was a sea change in being able to go out with a laptop and a mobile phone and video camera," Gannon says. "We got a small and very good team from IT and called them the remote communications group. They can take a journalist in Iraq in a hotel or somewhere in Harare, and can get their story straight through [to publication]. We have a fantastic relationship with our editorial team and they work with the IT team."


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